And then there was Sergeant Moriarty.
In 1961, Rowayton, CT where we had lived for about three years was having a heat wave and there were warnings about the danger of fires. Our sons, Nigel aged seven and Nick aged five had recently been found in our garden playing with matches and I had got tough with them and delivered a pretty strong ultimatum on the subject. About a month later, a neighbor told me some boys had been seen in the woods above our house lighting small fires and he though our two might have been with them. Our house was the last house on a hill where the road dead-ended at the edge of a large wooded area and I had been concerned that it would be the first to go if we had a fire. Being that nervous probably made me do what I did. Without a word to the boys, I called the city of Norwalk fire house that served Rowayton and asked if someone could give a talk to my boys if I brought them in. I got a positive response and was told to make sure I asked for Sergeant Moriarty when I came in.
I hesitated before I took the next step but I really was concerned so I went ahead. I told the boys to get in the back of our car because we were going on a short trip. They knew by my attitude that we were not going to the drug store for ice cream or a drink and I could hear lots of concern behind me as I drove. When I turned into the fire-house parking area they suddenly got very quiet. I asked for Sergeant Moriarty and was surprised how well he matched his name. He was a large man with a red face and a handle-bar mustache. He looked a bit old for a fireman but was dressed for action if needed. He just said, “Are these the boys?” and when I said they were he said, “Come with me” to the boys and took them to what I could see was a jail-like holding area and when I heard him say, “Have either of you ever been in jail before” I instantly wished I had not exposed the boys to this. I was left in the lobby and had some regrets followed by very anxious moments. Unbeknown to me, Moriarty was giving the boys a tour of the fire-station. He included cautionary comments about fire hazards and explained what happened in the fire-house when a real alarm was sounded. He took them into the firemen’s lounge where four or five fire-men were present, all in some stage of readiness in their dress. He introduced each one to the boys and showed them where each one sat or stood on the fire engine when it rushed out to a fire. They each got put in a fire-man’s hat for laughs and a good time was had by all. I had a few moments with the Sergeant on the way out and he told me I had a fine pair of boys and that he thought he had shown and told them enough to scare them about fires.
Looking back over the years, I don’t know whether I did it right or if I would have been able to do it differently but I know that Nigel and Nick still remember their ordeal of meeting the scary, then friendly, then really nice Sergeant Moriarty. In any event, neither of them turned out to be a fire-man.